On 14 August, Boko Haram released a video showing about fifty of the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped in April 2014.
The video begins with a masked man, carrying a gun, speaking in Hausa to the camera. He says that some of the girls have been wounded and have life-threatening injuries, that 40 have been married, and that the girls in the video will never be freed if the government does not release imprisoned Boko Haram fighters. The gunman says some girls died in air strikes, and the video ends with footage purporting to show their bodies lying on the ground at another location.
One of the captives, Maida Yakubu, is interviewed on the video and states that government jet fighters have killed some of the girls. She says, “All I can say is that our parents should be patient, beg the government to release their people, so that we can also be released.” Some of the girls standing in the background – all in hijabs – weep as she speaks. A baby can be seen with one of them.
Of the 276 schoolgirls kidnapped from Government Girls Secondary School in Chibok, Borno state, on 14 April 2014, 57 escaped by jumping from the trucks taking them away. The remaining 219 have remained missing since then, apart from one girl who was rescued in May 2016. Amina Ali was found in the Sambisa Forest by the Civilian Joint Task Force, a vigilante group set up to help fight Boko Haram.
Boko Haram split
The video comes shortly after a split in Boko Haram. The faction led by Abubakar Shekau seems to be the one holding the Chibok girls, and it may have released the video as a show of strength. The other faction claims it is the true regional branch of Islamic State. Two weeks ago, in its weekly magazine, IS named its West Africa leader as Abu Musab al-Barnawi.
On the day the video was released, Nigeria’s Information and Culture Minister Alhaji Mohammed responded by stating that the government is doing everything possible to secure the girls’ release, and that it is in touch with the militants behind the video. “We are being extremely careful because the situation has been compounded by the split in the leadership of Boko Haram,” he said. “We are also being guided by the need to ensure the safety of the girls.”
Parents watch video
Samuel Yaga, father of abducted schoolgirl Serah Samuel, told the BBC Hausa service: “I have watched the video several times. I saw her sitting down. The fact is, we are overwhelmed with a feeling of depression. It’s like being beaten and being stopped from crying. You helplessly watch your daughter but there is nothing you can do. It’s a real heartache. Those who are still alive – we want them back… We are just here unable to do anything with our lives. You see your child but someone denies you from having it. They are being forcefully married and they now live in terrible conditions.”
Kanu Yakubu, father of Maida Yakubu (who is interviewed in the video) told reporters in Abuja, “When I heard her voice, I realised she is my daughter.” He said he is certain of the identities of ten other girls in the video.
One of the Chibok mothers, Esther Yakubu, is pictured (in the centre of the image) watching the video during a press conference held by the #Bring Back Our Girls campaign group at Unity Fountain, Abuja, on 14 August.
Nigerian newpaper Vanguard published the statement made by the gunman, whom it identified as Abubakar Shekau. The following is an extract.
“Our first message is to the parents of the girls to let them know that their daughters are still with us, some of them.
“I also want to tell them to ask the Nigerian government to release our brethren, especially those in Maiduguri, Lagos, Abuja and other places across Nigeria. They should be released immediately.
“You all knew that we had the girls… You keep lying in your media that you will rescue them. They have been with us for over two years, yet you can’t even know where they are. You have just been lying about these girls, people should know that.
“Also, for the over two years that we have been with these girls, about forty of them are married, some are dead as a result of airstrike by infidels [the Nigerian Air Force]. We will show you a video of how your own aircraft dropped a bomb that killed some of these girls. Some of the girls have suffered fractures and other forms of injuries as a result of the air strikes.
“This in short is our message to the Federal Government and the parents of the Chibok Girls. As long as the government does not release our people, we will also never release these girls, that is our message.
“Let me conclude this message by saying that many people have been coming to us lying that they were sent by the Nigerian government to get the girls released. Let the government and the whole world know that we have not sent anyone to negotiate with the government on our behalf over these girls… Let me say again, release our people and we release your girls, otherwise, they will never be released. If you think you have the power to come and rescue them, go ahead and try. President Buhari, your Army has been lying to you that they have finished us, let them try and see if they can rescue these girls alive.”
(BBC, NAIJ, Reuters, Vanguard)